Marriott Guests Exposed to Recent Cyber Attack: Is Your Company Secure?

The Marriott International hospitality company recently announced that its guest reservation system had been hacked. Marriott indicated that information from approximately 500 million of their guests had been exposed in the breach, making this one of the largest cyber incidents in history.

Guests who have made bookings with the company’s Starwood properties on or before Sept. 10, 2018, may have had sensitive information—including names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, passport numbers, credit card numbers, and other identifying information—compromised. Brands impacted include:

  • Marriott Hotels
  • W Hotels
  • St. Regis
  • Sheraton Hotels & Resorts
  • Westin Hotels & Resorts
  • Element Hotels
  • Aloft Hotels
  • The Luxury Collection
  • Tribute Portfolio
  • Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts
  • Four Points by Sheraton
  • Design Hotels

Marriot has reported the incident to law enforcement officials and an investigation is ongoing. The company has already begun emailing affected guests and has set up a website and call center to answer customer questions.

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, data breaches increased 40 percent in 2016, with a total of 1,093 reported breaches. This trend continued in 2017, with over 1,120 cases reported by October. Businesses, both large and small, are increasingly reliant on the internet for daily operations, creating attractive and potentially lucrative targets for cybercriminals.

With such heavy use of and reliance on computers and the internet, protecting these resources has become increasingly important. Learning about cyber attacks and how to prevent them can help you protect your company from security breaches.

Cyber Attacks Compromise Your Company

Cyber attacks include many types of attempted or successful breaches of computer security. These threats come in different forms, including phishing, viruses, Trojans, keylogging, spyware, and spam. Once hackers have gained access to the computer system, they can accomplish any of several malicious goals, typically stealing information or financial assets, corrupting data or causing operational disruption or shutdown.

Both third parties and insiders can use a variety of techniques to carry out cyber attacks. These techniques range from highly sophisticated efforts to electronically circumvent network security or overwhelm websites to more traditional intelligence gathering and social engineering aimed at gaining network access.

A breach in cyber security can lead to unauthorized usage through tactics such as:

  • Installing spyware that allows the hacker to track Internet activity and steal information and passwords
  • Deceiving recipients of phishing emails into disclosing personal information
  • Tricking recipients of spam email into giving hackers access to the computer system
  • Installing viruses that allow hackers to steal, corrupt or delete information or even crash the entire system
  • Hijacking the company website and rerouting visitors to a fraudulent look-alike site and subsequently stealing personal information from clients or consumers

Cyber attacks may also be carried out in a manner that does not require gaining unauthorized access, such as denial-of-service (DoS) attacks on websites in which the site is overloaded by the attacker and legitimate users are then denied access.

The Vulnerable Become the Victims

The majority of cybercriminals are indiscriminate when choosing their victims. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) asserts that cybercriminals will target vulnerable computer systems regardless of whether the systems belong to a Fortune 500 company, a small business or a home user.

Cyber-criminals look for weak spots and attack there, no matter how large or small the organization. Small businesses, for instance, are becoming a more attractive target as many larger companies tighten their cybersecurity. According to the industry experts, the cost of the average cyber attack on a small business is increasing exponentially and shows no signs of slowing down. Nearly 60 percent of the small businesses victimized by a cyber attack close permanently within six months of the attack. Many of these businesses put off making necessary improvements to their cybersecurity protocols until it is too late because they fear the costs would be prohibitive.

Security Tips for Your Company

Cybersecurity should be a company-wide effort. Consider implementing the following suggestions at your organization:

  • Install, use and regularly update anti-virus and anti-spyware software on all computers.
  • Download and install software updates for your operating systems and applications as they become available.
  • Change the manufacturer’s default passwords on all software.
  • Use a firewall for your internet connection.
  • Regularly make backup copies of important business data.
  • Control who can physically access your computers and other network components.
  • Secure any Wi-Fi networks.
  • Require individual user accounts for each employee.
  • Limit employee access to data and information, and limit authority for software installation.
  • Monitor, log and analyze all attempted and successful attacks on systems and networks.
  • Establish a mobile device policy and keep them updated with the most current software and anti-virus programs.

Security Tips for Employees

  • Use strong passwords, change them periodically and never share them with anyone. Never repeat a password across accounts.
  • Protect private information by not disclosing it unless necessary, and always verify the source if asked to input sensitive data for a website or email.
  • Don’t open suspicious links and emails; an indication that the site is safe is if the URL begins with https://.
  • Scan all external devices, such as USB flash drives, for viruses and malicious software (malware) before using the device.

Securing Your Company’s Mobile Devices

Gone are the days when contact names and phone numbers were the most sensitive pieces of information on an employee’s phone. Now a smartphone or tablet can be used to gain access to anything from emails to stored passwords to proprietary company data. Depending on how your organization uses such devices, unauthorized access to the information on a smartphone or tablet could be just as damaging as a data breach involving a more traditional computer system.

The need for proper mobile device security is no different from the need for a well-protected computer network. Untrusted app stores will continue to be a major source of mobile malware which drives traffic to these stores. This type of “malvertising” continues to grow quickly on mobile platforms.

Most importantly, stay informed about cybersecurity and continue to discuss internet safety with employees.

Don’t Let it Happen to Your Company

According to the DHS, 96 percent of cybersecurity breaches could have been avoided with simple or intermediate controls. Strengthening passwords, installing anti-virus software and not opening suspicious emails and links are the first steps toward cybersecurity. In addition to the listed tips, the FCC provides a tool for small businesses that can create and save a custom cyber security plan for your company, choosing from a menu of expert advice to address your specific business needs and concerns.

A data breach could cripple your small business, costing you thousands or millions of dollars in lost revenue, sales, damages and reputation. Contact Vanner Insurance Agency today. We have the tools necessary to ensure you have the proper coverage to protect your company against losses from cyber attacks.